What is The Soapbox Derby?

  • By: The DIG for Kids
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Soapbox Derby is a fantastic and high thrill event, where homemade, non-motorized car that uses nothing but gravity to win the race.

What Is Soapbox Racing?

Watching your someone you know competing in a soapbox derby is fun, exhilarating, and super rewarding for everyone involved! Not only will they get to build their very own car, but also race against the clock on an official racecourse — but it can’t be that simple, can it? Let’s find out.

Typically, the racers start at the top of a hill and when the klaxon sounds, they speed down it. Some even reach 35 miles per hour! We know this sounds scary but most of the time, the cars are fitted with brakes (depending on how they were constructed) so it is easy for the competitor to slow things down if they feel like it’s a bit too much.

Competitors are allowed to be given a bit of “oomph” at the start with a push if that particular race allows it by pushed by other team members. But from there on, gravity does all the work. 

However, it isn’t quite that simple. Usually, there are multiple divisions within each race so everyone has a fair chance at winning. Let’s take a look at those, shall we? This way you can help the right section! (Don’t worry, we will get on to the safety stuff in just a moment!)

Soapbox Questions

What Does Soapbox Mean?

When you think of a soapbox, what comes to mind? Probably a platform that people used to stand on to give speeches, right? Well,  you aren’t wrong in thinking that, but in this case, we are talking about a soapbox car.

Nowadays, you will notice that a lot of cars seen competing in these races are made from fiberglass, aluminum, or other strong materials. However, this wasn’t always the case. 

Back in the day, these cars were constructed using wooden soap crates and roller skate wheels. Hence why they have named them soapbox cars. Although, they aren’t called this everywhere. In Scotland, for instance, they refer to these little guys as bogies, guiders, or pilers. In Australia, billy-carts are the household name for them, and in England, people tend to refer to them as trolleys, carts, or buggies.

Why Is It Called a Soapbox Derby?

Since we have just spoken about where the name for soapbox cars came from, it becomes obvious then why they have named the races “soapbox derbies”. It just seemed to fit with tradition!

Has Anyone Died Doing the Soapbox Derby?

To put it bluntly, yes, people have died during the Soapbox Derby Races. Safety is always paramount and anything where you are combining speed and gravity, plus in many cases, untested vehicles holds a degree of risk. The way to minimise it is to be prepared as much as possible.

Soapbox Divisions

The Divisions 

In the majority of local races and definitely in the national competition, there are three main divisions. They can vary slightly but organizers tend to stick with the following: 

  • Stock Division
  • Super Stock Car Division
  • Masters’ Division

The Stock Division

This one is for boys and girls aged 7 up to and including 13 years. It is designed to give first-time soapbox builders a chance to gain experience and confidence.

Generally, the cars are made from kits bought from the company, All-American. Within each kit, you and your child will be given step-by-step instructions of a standard lean-forward car type. 

The Super Stock Division

If your son or daughter is aged between 10 and 17, you will want to help them enter this division. They will be allowed to build an advanced soapbox car while they gain proper racing experience.

The Masters’ Division 

The final division is reserved for children (and young adults) aged 10 through to beyond. You should only enter this one if they have had previous experience in the sport. It is a place for competitors to test out their design skills — and add a bit of creative flair in the mix as well.

If you would feel safer for them to purchase a fiberglass body kit for this one, then you absolutely can! 


The Safety Aspect

This is probably the first thing that came to mind as a parent or as a competitor  — how safe is soap racing? Well, every sport has some sort of danger element to it but there are systems you can implement that will make soapbox racing as safe as possible for your ray of sunshine.

Ensure You/ Your Child Knows That Wearing a Helmet is a Must

Yep, even during practice rounds. You will probably have to make sure that it is on properly (depending on their age) as children tend to strap them far too loosely. But as long as you check him or her over, they should be good to go. 

Make Sure You / Your Child Wears the Right Clothes

While the helmet is the most important part, there are other items your son or daughter should have on including: 

  • Long sleeve tops or hoodies — this provides some skin protection in case a crash happens.
  • Sturdy, grippy footwear (high-quality trainers, for example) — ensure they aren’t open-toe, have great grip, and sturdy soles. Their feet are less likely to slip when they reach for the brake this way.

We wrote an article in our Safety with Pedal Go Kart section with many parts relevant to this article.

The Bottom Line 

While it might be scary for you as a parent to watch your child or yourself take part in a soapbox race, it will be thoroughly rewarding for them (and you) the more you get used to the idea. Hopefully, we have calmed your mind here today by giving you a run-through of what to expect from the building to the race day.

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